Exploring the “Global 50” future opportunities … innovating in a world of quantum shifts, in search of growth, prosperity and wellbeing
April 1, 2022
“Over the past 50 years, humanity has witnessed exponential developments that have resulted in the sort of change that previously took 500 years to achieve. Our progress is advancing at an accelerated rate. The cumulative effect of creativity, technology and social progress means that the next 50 years are likely to see transformations that surpass humankind’s achievements on every front” says a new report, The Global 50, exploring a future of radically new opportunities for business, societies and nations.
The report is published by the Dubai Future Foundation, which seeks to build on the UAE’s huge investment in future thinking, from Expo 2021 to its Museum of the Future, global collaborations on specific topics like hydrogen energy, and radical ventures like its Mars simulations. Having spent time working with the UAE’s PMO, and specifically their Ministry of Possibilities, it is a place without boundaries, which really does see ideas as open-sourced building blocks to a better global society. And beyond. Because the ideas, insights and opportunities in this report are relevant to everyone, everywhere.
Future 50 starts by reconsidering what we mean by success:
- Growth … Today defined as the increase in the total real output of goods and services in an economy over time. Tomorrow could go beyond economic factors, for example by accounting for negative impacts, to create a measure of net-positive growth.
- Prosperity … Today defined as a life of dignity and stability, free from the threats of poverty or harm, with access to decent employment opportunities and services such as education and healthcare. Tomorrow may encompass the same factors but set the bar higher: societies seen as prosperous will offer easy access to highly personalised education and healthcare services and widely varied means to earn a living, whether through employment, entrepreneurship or creativity. People will have more life choices and a more supportive environment in which to make them.
- Wellbeing … Today defined as a good state of mental and physical health and feelings of life satisfaction. Tomorrow, it could be more about feelings of self- realisation as advances in medicine and technology lead to a greater ability to address mental and physical health issues. Positive social interactions and a sense of belonging conducive to self-esteem may take on greater weight in well-being, placing new demands and expectations on support from the state and society.
A new world of opportunity
This is an era of quantum shifts – rapid, sudden, and radical changes that create a range of possible scenarios for the future. As a quantum physicist myself, I recognise quantum theory as an abrupt transition from one energy state to another by atomic and sub- atomic particles. Here, it describes the rapid, disruptive and dramatic changes that we are starting to see in technology, business, government, medicine, culture and other areas.
5 major categories of opportunity emerge:
- Nature Restored … Minimise environmental risks, harness nature’s capacity to restore itself or have a positive impact on crucial environmental ecosystems and habitats, creating a more stable, healthier planet for all.
- Societies Empowered … Empower societies by offering solutions to humanity’s most complex and universal needs, optimising systems they rely on, safeguarding risks that could make societies more fragile in the face of crises and extending individual and collective potential for growth and development.
- Health Reimagined … Redefine mental and physical health, support longer lives, drawing on both science, technology and nature towards better health and new ways to personalise access for individuals and communities everywhere.
- Systems Optimised … Improve and build more effective and resilient systems underpinning advancements to services and solutions at various levels of business, government and society.
- Transformational … The power to radically change ways of life by replacing the models that countries, communities and individuals live by. These new models enable individuals and communities to innovate and improve and aid the transformation of humanity to new digital and non-digital realities.
These 50 opportunities are representations of 10 broader megatrends:
- Materials revolution: Researchers are studying nature to find inspiration for synthetic biological materials with novel physical properties that can be made in a laboratory. Over the next few decades, technological advances in materials science could result in wide-ranging applications to enhance sustainability, durability and efficiency. Supply chains may be re-engineered as individuals become producers in a regenerative or self- sufficient economy.
- Devaluation of data: Ubiquitous real-time data is increasingly challenging the viability of business models based on asymmetric information. As more data becomes open, competition shifts from the question of who has the best data to that of who can best analyse the data that is available to everyone. New kinds of data – such as open-source DNA of many living organisms, brain mapping and microbiome analysis – can provide platforms for innovation in areas such as disease prevention and treatment.
- Increasing technological and biological vulnerabilities: The more data becomes open, and the more interconnected and intelligent systems become, the more vulnerable a range of critical infrastructure and services will be – from finance to supply chains to potentially hackable DNA-based personalised medicine. Complexity could grow faster than the capacity to mitigate risks of system failure and cyberattacks. Quantum-proofing the internet will require new solutions and may be very complex.
- Pushing the boundaries on energy: New solutions for electricity generation and storage, some not involving batteries or heat, are set to enable new models of energy distribution when combined with smart grids and superconductors. Examples include facilitating peer-to-peer electricity sharing across buildings and bringing cheap and consistent power to remote communities without the need for generators, allowing them to develop rapidly. Fusion could make energy limitless and bring immense benefits worldwide.
- Management of ecosystems: Environmental impacts are seen less in terms of specific processes and more in terms of ecosystems. Ecosystem services are valued more highly with a greater understanding of their role in innovation and climate change mitigation and the connections between the biological world, humans and the digital world. More accurately assessing the value to humanity of the natural habitats of different countries could drive the emergence of new models to invest in ecosystem services. Community- and building-level ecosystems can become regenerative micro-economies that need to be served differently by governments and utilities.
- Borderless world: Health, education and other services increasingly cross borders, pointing to a digital future with minimal transfer of physical goods. There is a growing need to clarify jurisdictions for cross-border transactions and set up international dispute resolution mechanisms that can resolve issues for everyone, wherever they are in the world.
- Digital Realities, living in immersive virtual and digital spaces: Digital platforms evolve into digital realities beyond digital twins. Brain– computer interfaces could lead to a new symbiosis between the human and virtual worlds, allowing people to touch, smell, feel, see and hear surroundings in which they are not physically present. This would enable many aspects of life to be replicated in virtual spaces, including work and legal systems. It would also raise policy questions, such as how physical- world legalities and ethics apply in virtual spaces.
- Living with autonomous robots: Humans may come to trust robots more than other humans because they act predictably, ensure confidentiality and make better decisions. But robots also pose ethical questions. How
far should they be granted rights? When should they be made available, and for whom? A sharing economy could involve robots that create opportunities to aid greater growth, prosperity and even well-being.
- Repurposing human purpose: Advanced artificial intelligence can open new ways to realise human potential and reconfigure our purpose in the future. Intelligent, connected systems are enabling more personalised access to goods and services within people’s homes. Mental health conditions may be remedied by brain–computer interfaces and real-time testing and monitoring. People will seek income in different ways in future, with the economy set to revolve more around creative problem- solving – for example, there is potential for people to initiate inventions and solutions and own part of the intellectual property. Throughout history, technological shifts have led to new kinds of occupations emerging, suggesting that fears about job displacement can be alleviated if we know how to mentor people to operate in a more efficient world.
- Advanced health and nutrition: Biofoundries that harness biological processes to produce sustainable products, including novel agritech and foods, have the potential to improve individual and collective outcomes while reducing environmental stresses. Personalised metabolic and genetic nutritional profiles can enable huge advances in addressing a range of physical and mental conditions, boosting longevity, productivity and well-being. Food and nutrition may become more regenerative, health diagnoses instantaneous and treatment more available either in people’s homes or through nutrition and robots for therapy. More accessible gene editing and gene therapy can, with appropriate regulations, bring many benefits.
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